“I’m definitely writing that one down for the article.”
“You should just quote everything I say, and I expect my name in the headline. Like ‘Children of Tycoons, featuring Connor Cobalt, an upcoming entrepreneur to look out for.’”
“I’ll consider it, but my professor doesn’t like ending things with prepositions. So I think I’ll end it with, ‘featuring Connor Cobalt: You’ll want to kiss his ass.’”
“Perfect,” Connor exclaims.
I finally find a brush stuffed in my sock drawer and finish battling the knots. When I brace the kitchen, I see Lo pouring a glass of scotch. I sidle up next to him and he wraps an arm around my waist.
Ryke mouths, Distract him.
I shake my head. I am done trying to force Lo to do anything, not at the expense of our relationship.
Ryke flips me off, and Connor’s too stuck in his cellphone to notice. I stick out my tongue at him, really mature, I know.
Lo grabs my chin and turns my head towards him. “Did you just stick your tongue at him?” He wears an amused grin.
I shake my head. “Nope.”
“She did,” Ryke rats me out.
“He flipped me off!” I refute.
Lo kisses me on the lips, shutting me up. Oh… When he breaks, his warm breath hits my ear. “I love you.” My heart flutters at the words. Before I can reciprocate, his phone vibrates on the counter.
I glimpse at the screen, my stomach dropping. “Maybe you shouldn’t answer it.”
Lo takes the phone and presses the receiver to his ear. “Hey Dad.” He walks towards the bedroom for privacy.
To preoccupy my mind, I go to the fridge and find a Cherry Fizz, popping the can. I remember I owe Connor a thousand bucks for passing my econ exam. I’m not in the mood to fish out my checkbook right now, but I’ll plan a search for it later. It may very well be hiding underneath my bed. Or in a random purse.
“Connor,” I say, “Can I pay you later for our bet?”
One of Ryke’s eyebrows arches. “What bet?”
Connor distractedly answers and texts at the same time. “A thousand dollars on whether or not she would pass her econ exam. And Lily, I don’t want your money.”
“However, I’d love a favor.” He has yet to look up at me.
Ryke lets out a short laugh. “You would choose favors over cash.”
Connor doesn’t argue.
“What kind of favor?” I ask.
“When you feel up to it, I think you should work for your sister. It doesn’t have to be now. Maybe sometime in the spring. She’s looking to hire an assistant at Calloway Couture, and I know she’d love for you to be involved.”
My stomach sinks. “As much as I’d like to be working with my sister, I know nothing about fashion.”
“That’s why you’re an assistant and not running the company.”
“That doesn’t sound fun.” And how will I be able to take sex breaks? I can’t believe that’s all I can think about: how to schedule in porn, how to sneak Lo through her offices, how to find time to feed my desires.
“Well, you lost the bet, so you owe me.”
“Can’t I just pay you?”
“No, that’s too easy.”
I sigh, wondering if I’ll be able to squirm out of the deal as it approaches later in my life. Probably not, but by the time it happens, maybe I’ll be okay with my decision. So I nod. “Okay. I’ll be her assistant sometime in the future.”
“Near future.” He types something in his phone and then stands. “I have to take this.” He presses the cell to his ear and heads into the living room. Leaving me alone with Ryke.
I hop on the counters by the cabinets and face him.
Ryke glances over his shoulder at the hallway where Lo disappeared. “Does he like his father? I can’t tell.”
I shrug. “It depends on the day.”
He turns back to me. “What’s he like?”
“Lo doesn’t talk about him with you?” I’ve managed to dodge their boy outings by having breakfast with Rose the past week. I enjoy it more than I’ll let on.
“Not much,” Ryke says. “Sometimes, he curses his father out, and then other times, he talks about the guy like he’s a god.”
Sounds about right. “It’s complicated.”
“Look.” I lower my voice. “I know you’re not really writing an article, so you don’t need to ask these things.”
Ryke rolls his eyes. “I f**king know that, Lily. I’m asking because I’m genuinely curious. No offense, but I care about your boyfriend more than I care about you.”
I squint. “Are you sure you don’t have a crush on him?”
He groans. “Seriously, Lily?”
“What? It’s an honest question. You’re obsessed with Lo.”
“I’m not obsessed. Don’t use that word. I’m just curious. I want to know him. Why do I have to be in love with him to want such a thing?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. It’s weird.” I can’t make sense of the strangeness. I feel like it’s there, but it’s not connecting. “Are you sure there isn’t something more?”
“No. There’s not. Just go back to my first question. How’s Jonathan Hale complicated?”
I focus on that and open my mouth, trying to form words to an enigmatic man. He doesn’t physically hit Lo, but he’s not earning any Father of the Year awards either. In one minute, Jonathan can wrap an arm around him and call him a great son. And then next, he can spit out hateful words. Lo’s mood fluctuates with his father’s temper, and whenever he interacts with him, you can see a switch. I assume that’s where Ryke’s concern originates.
After I fail at describing Jonathan aloud, Ryke changes questions. “Do you talk to him a lot?”
I shake my head. “He makes an effort to ignore me unless he wants to blame someone for Lo’s poor grades. Otherwise, I steer clear of the Hale household.”
“Has he remarried?”
“No. He brings a lot of girls over at night.” After Lo’s mom left when he was a baby, Jonathan hired a nanny and started dating again. The number of women stumbling out of the house in the morning, wearing the same dress the night before, grew exponentially as the years ticked by.
When I was sixteen, I remember shoveling scrambled eggs into my mouth while Lo tried to unlock his father’s liquor cabinet. Jonathan overslept after a night of his own debauchery. A woman in a slim black dress carried her red pumps and shuffled through the kitchen. She refused to look at us, instead keeping her sight on the door like it was a finish line in a 5K race. And I had a sudden urge to bolt up from my chair and pull her aside. To ask her if she liked the thrill of one-night stands as much as me. To talk and gossip about being two girls completely in control of their bodies. At the time, I felt closeted, like a slut with a secret. But I stayed in my seat, letting her leave and fantasizing about what she might have told me.
I don’t know if Lo realizes that I learned about one-night stands from his father’s numerous flings. I hope not. And I’d never tell him.
I return my focus back on Ryke who watches me too closely, as though reading my expression for his answers.
Lo enters the kitchen with a clenched jaw and a pocketed phone. Oh no.
“Everything okay?” Ryke asks.
“Fine,” Lo says unconvincingly. He grabs his jacket off the chair and a bottle of bourbon from the counter. “Let’s go.”
Ryke and I exchange worry, and we both follow Lo in close pursuit.
* * *
The necklace I gave Lo thumps against his chest as he dances with me. I touch the arrowhead and he clasps his hands in mine. He plants a light kiss on my cheek before distancing himself. I reach out, but he’s already gone, delegating himself king of the bar stool.
He orders a slew of drinks while sweat gathers at the base of my neck, and I solo-dance on the floor, shedding off insecurities with the hypnotic music. I keep glancing back at the bar. Each time, Lo holds a new drink. I’ve evaded the phone call topic because Connor and Ryke always hang around him, and I’d rather not broach the subject in front of them.
After three shots of tequila for Connor and Ryke, they head to the bathroom, and I grab my chance to speak to Lo alone.
“Hey.” I nudge his shoulder and slide into the nearby stool. Distracted, he stares at his glass of amber liquid—his mind far away from here. “What did your father want?”
Lo shakes his head and cups the glass tighter. “Nothing.”
I frown and try to push away the hurt from his unwillingness to share. The rejection stings, but it may just be the wrong time. He catches my despondence and looks back towards the bathrooms to make sure Ryke and Connor aren’t returning soon. Then he twists his body towards me. Our knees knock together, and I have a sudden urge to lean in closer, to intertwine our legs and feel his lean muscles against my body. This is serious, I remind myself, pushing away those selfish thoughts.
“It was about my mom,” Lo confesses. All dirty images evaporate, being replaced by sheer concern. “Somehow, he found out I contacted her.” Lo pauses and rubs his lips in deep thought. “He told me that she wanted nothing to do with me.” My chest constricts. “He told me that she doesn’t deserve to think about me or to even hear my voice.” He lets out a short, bitter laugh. “He said she was a f**king cunt.”
He runs a hand through his hair. “Lil, I think…I think I agree with him.” Wrinkles crease his forehead in utter confusion as he struggles to make sense of his warring emotions.
“Your mother left you,” I say. “It’s okay to be angry at her. It doesn’t make you him.”
His lips press together as he processes my words, and I wish I had more to offer. He leans forward and kisses me lightly on the temple, a small thank you, before he turns around on his stool and flags down the bartender for another drink.
She pours bourbon in a Riedel glass and slides it into his hand.
“How long before you want to go to the bathroom?” I ask.
“I don’t know. My bladder is pretty big. I could go at least another couple hours,” Lo says. He smiles into his glass, and I give him a sharp look.
He hooks his foot under the rung of my stool and slides it forward. Oh wow. My hip knocks into his and he snakes an arm around my waist, melding me to his side. This is kind of nice. I feel his hand run up underneath my shirt and rub the soft skin on my back.
I start dreaming about hav**g s*x right here. Lo taking me across the bar in a sultry heat. Sex on a bar.
It’d be like our addictions making love.
His lips tickle my ear. Back to reality. “What are you thinking?”
I think he knows because he smiles and nibbles my ear.
“Get a room,” Connor exclaims, sidling up beside me while Ryke sits down beside Lo.
“Or better yet,” Ryke says, “a car.”